By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
On September 1, a new state law went into effect limiting the use of confidential informants in court. Drug convictions may no longer be based on uncorroborated testimony from a single informant. The new law is one of several battles won during the last session of the Texas legislature by a coalition of groups including the ACLU and the NAACP. The legislature also made it easier to obtain background information on law enforcement officers. The measure resulted from the revelations about undercover officer Tom Coleman, whose theft charge (later dropped) was discovered after his busts in Tulia as part of the Panhandle Regional Narcotics Task Force.
Meanwhile, Coleman continues his gypsy ways. He left the Panhandle task force and found new employment with the Southeast Dallas County/Ellis County Task Force in Waxahachie. This past April, however, Coleman was fired. The Amarillo Globe-News quoted Ellis County District Attorney Joe Grubb as saying Coleman's termination did not involve any of his work as an undercover officer. "It involved his relationship with an individual in the community."
In addition to calling for a Justice Department probe of Coleman's actions and last summer's arrests in Tulia, the ACLU also is pushing for federal probes of the task force actions in Brownwood and Brady. What's more, agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation have interviewed former undercover task force officer Barbara Markham about her allegations of at least 150 trumped-up drug charges filed against persons arrested by the Narcotics Trafficking Task Force of Chambers and Liberty Counties. Markham currently works for the small Oak Forest Police Department on Lake Lewisville near Denton. After seven years of going under cover for task forces, she would never work for another one -- even if she wanted to.
"I'm completely blackballed," says Markham, "but I wouldn't work for a task force again."
Editorial assistant Kirsten Bubier helped compile statistics for this story.